Going into Heathers, I was completely unaware of what to expect. I had the understanding that it was a cult dark comedy starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater about a clique of snobby girls all named Heather and there is an accidental death. After watching the film, that is not really wrong, but it totally misses the whole point, and I’m glad I was able to experience the film without knowing much about it.
The film opens up with the Heathers and Veronica (Ryder) playing croquet. This game sets up the color coordination for the girls – red for Heather Chandler, yellow for Heather McNamara, green for Heather Duke, and blue for Veronica. Initially set up, the colors represent the toxicity of the girls (red being the worst) and serve as a way to separate the girls who are always lumped together in the Westerberg consciousness. Not only through the use of colors, but also the game of croquet itself serves a major purpose for the characters, as it is a game played by a higher class of people, and a major part of the game is shoving other players out of your way in order for you to score.
During a scene taking place at lunch at Westerberg High, Heather Chandler gives Veronica the task of forging a note from the star football player to an overweight classmate to initiate humiliation. J.D. (Slater) watches from across the cafeteria curiously, as if he knows this isn’t Veronica’s true form. After the incident, and a use of some revolver blanks along with a college party, Veronica and J.D. meet up and he buys her a cherry slushy. From here they plan to seek revenge on Heather Chandler in her hungover state. The two end up accidentally killing her and they decide to stage it as a suicide, helped by Veronica’s knack for imitating handwriting.
The school’s reaction to the news turns Heather Chandler into a martyr, even though it was clear that just about everyone hated her while she was alive. This thread of perceived care about people after their passing plays through the film, until the end where the idea of burning out versus fading away really comes to a head.
Through the film’s handling of murder and suicide of teenagers, imagery, comedy, and different motifs, the sense of tone is seemingly all over the place, however it feels that the filmmakers were completely aware of how they were handling it. Conversations are repeated, Veronica’s parents are usually shot in a tight, wide-angle close up, giving them a David Lynch-ian quality as they force their way through a meal with their daughter.
Heathers is a strange film that could have only come to fruition in 1988 when strange films were what audiences were digesting, because as Heather Chandler said, “bulimia is so eighty-seven.”
-By Kirk Yoshonis